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The tour of the M.C.C.'s team in the winter of 1920-21 resulted, as everyone knows, in disaster, all the Test matches being easily won by Australia. Never before in the history of English or Australian trips since Test matches were first played had one side shown such an overwhelming superiority.
As the news came to hand of defeat after defeat people thought the Englishmen must be playing very badly. Not till the Australians came here in the summer and beat us three times in succession on our own grounds did we fully realise the strength of the combination that had set up such a record. The M.C.C. were very doubtful as to the wisdom of renewing the interchange of visits so soon, feeling that English cricket had not had time to regain its pre-war standard, and it will be remembered that they declined a pressing invitation to send out a team in the winter of 1919-20. However, in face of Australia's keen desire, they could not insist on further delay.
That the Australian authorities had judged the situation rightly was proved by results. In a financial sense the tour was an immense success, the Test matches attracting bigger crowds than ever.
As finally chosen the team consisted of the following sixteen players:
Mr R. H. Spooner was asked to be captain, but after accepting the post he was obliged, for domestic reasons, to give it up. Hitch, travelling by a later boat than the others, filled the last place when Mr Jupp found that he could not leave England. The general feeling in the country when the team left home was one of full confidence in the batting - quite justified by the form shown in 1920 - but grave doubt as to the bowling on Australian wickets. It was clear, moreover, that the side would be short of first-rate outfields. On this point the M.C.C. were at fault, but otherwise, except that Holmes should certainly have been picked in preference to Makepeace, they chose wisely from the players available.
The chief cause of failure was the bowling, the worst fears as to its lack of quality being borne out. One glance at the Test match averages is sufficient to show where the weakness lay. Parkin was the man on whom we most depended, and once or twice he did good work, but his sixteen wickets in the five games cost him nearly 42 runs apiece. Douglas and Woolley, meeting with less success, had far worse figures. Fender, who played in three of the matches, came out best with twelve wickets for something over 34 and a half runs each. It must be said, however, that in a summer of continuous sunshine - remarkable even for Australia - the bowlers received no help. The Test matches, except one day when England had to bat, were all played through on perfect wickets, though a deluge of rain preceded the first match at Sydney.
The team suffered one grievous disaster, Hearne being taken ill after the opening day of the second Test match and playing no more. Up to this point he had, in all matches, scored 578 runs in eight innings. There were other drawbacks, due to illness and accidents, but it would be unfair to dwell upon them, or to make excuses for defeat. The broad fact remains that the Australians had a vast superiority in bowling - a superiority that made the difference in batting seem greater than it really was. Still, our batting on the big occasions fell far short of what might reasonably have been expected. Hobbs and Douglas alone were up to their form at home. Hendren had a splendid record for the whole tour - 1,606 runs with an average of 61 - but, though he hit up an innings of 271 against Victoria, his highest score in the five Test matches was 67. Woolley was even more disappointing in the all-important games, and Russell and Makepeace owed their averages not to consistent play but in each case to one big innings. No doubt the finest display given for England was Hobbs's 122 at Melbourne in the New Year match when rain had for the time being spoilt the wicket.
The batting figures for the whole tour look very well on paper, but they are flattering, the good averages being due so much to huge scores against South Australia - whose bowling had never been so weak - and in the minor games. Some of the best batting was seen in the two matches with Victoria and the return with New South Wales. Strudwick and Dolphin upheld the highest traditions of English wicket-keeping. Owing to labour troubles and the consequent difficulties in travelling, the team had to abandon the customary visit to Tasmania.
With Mr. F. C. Toone, the Yorkshire secretary, as manager, the tour on the whole passed off very smoothly, but a good deal of friction was caused by cable messages sent home to the Daily Express by Mr. E. R. Wilson. This led to a resolution passed at the annual meeting of the Marylebone Club in May deprecating the reporting of matches by the players concerned in them. In all the matches Law 13 was adhered to. The Australians in their own matches now bowl eight balls in the over.
Match reports for
1st Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Dec 17-22, 1920
2nd Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Dec 31, 1920 - Jan 4, 1921
3rd Test: Australia v England at Adelaide, Jan 14-20, 1921
4th Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Feb 11-16, 1921
5th Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Feb 25-Mar 1, 1921